Tag Archives: audio

Studio Usage Heat Map

studio usage heat map - by day

If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve been working to pull together a recording studio on a budget. Our first step was clearing out the old office that was destined to become the studio, work on minimizing the echo in the room, and painting one wall Sparkling Apple to use as a green screen. This is where our first $100 went. Next, we spent another $50 or so to light both the green screen and the talent in front of it. I’m currently working on sorting out the best solution for audio and video. (Stay tuned for updates!)

Fortunately, the lack of A/V equipment hasn’t prevented our staff from using the studio.  In fact, since the doors first opened in July, it has seen over 150 hours of use.  At this point, it is interesting to look at the patterns of usage that have emerged. Thus, the heat map, above.

To make the heat map, I added a “1” to each half-hour timeslot that the studio was reserved each week in an Excel spreadsheet. I then color-coded the data in the sheet with hotter colors reflecting higher numbers. The colors help to visualize trends in usage. For example, usage increases as the week goes on with Thursday and Friday afternoons appearing in oranges and reds. In contrast, there are times early on Monday and Tuesday that have never been reserved.

Studio usage heat map - by weekI also have a heat map that compresses all of the days into one, which I made by totaling the times for each half-hour block on the spreadsheet and then color-coding it. Click to enlarge it. Again, it’s pretty easy to see the studio warm up as the day goes on, indicating increased usage.  Having a couple of regular evening reservations also contributes to this pattern.

Color coding numbers in a spreadsheet isn’t rocket science, but it is an easy way to visualize the data to quickly get a read on the studio. And, I can see that I’m going to have to start coming in earlier on Mondays if I want to use the studio.

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Build a $150 Studio

IMG_4533  Our $100 studio gets $50 worth of lighting.

If you’ve been following along, you’ve already read about the $100 studio we built in an old office to record better audio and video resources for our students. We’ve recently installed $50 worth of lights to get the studio ready for video production.  Here’s what we used:

Item  #  Cost  Total
4′ two-light shop light  2 $14.98 $29.96
8 1/2″ clamp light  2 $7.85 $15.70
CFL bulbs – daylight (2 pack)  1 $9.98 $9.98
Total:  $55.64

Again, we did come a few dollars over our target of $50, but we’re in the neighborhood. Our list does not include bulbs for the shop lights (I brought in four bulbs from a twelve-pack I had in my garage) or the power strips we plugged the lights into because we scrounged those from around the office.

IMG_4536

The installation was relatively straightforward. We hung the shop lights as close to our green screen wall as possible in order to wash the wall with light evenly. An evenly lit green screen is easier to replace with another image or video in postproduction using iMovie or a similar application. We attached a paper baffle using magnets to try to keep the light from the shop lights from backlighting the subject. Green paper was not necessary, but it was readily available so we used it.

IMG_4535

We hung the clamp lights from the ceiling at approximately a 45-degree angle from the subject. The goal is to light the subject from just above her eyes, which means these lights may be a little high, but the ceiling was an easy way to hang them and keep them out of the way. We used binder clips to attach parchment paper over the bulbs to diffuse the light, making it less harsh. In the photo, you can see that we have added a second light (for two on each side). We did this to make sure there was plenty of light on the subject. Although the CFL lightbulbs do warm up and become brighter after about five minutes, they still have to compete with all of the light reflecting off of the green screen. So, we added the second set of lights to be sure there was plenty of light, though these may not be absolutely necessary.

Each set of lights, left and right, are plugged into a power strip on the wall. None of the lights have switches, so the switch on the power strip becomes an easy way to turn them on and off without having to plug or unplug them. Finally, the last critical detail was to get “daylight” bulbs rated at 6500K. This is the best light temperature for most cameras. Fortunately, daylight bulbs were easy to acquire and not any more expensive than other temperatures (warm, cool, etc.)

So, for a few bucks at your local home improvement warehouse, you can find plenty of lights to outfit your studio on a budget. Our next step is to test a few camera / microphone combinations to see what will fit our budget and be quick and easy to use for anyone in our program who wants to make a video. Stay tuned.

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Building a $100 Studio

panorama 3a_small

Like many educators, we find ourselves producing more and more online content.  Currently, to record audio, we try to find a quiet room and record directly onto our laptops, which makes for pretty lousy audio.  For video, the process is the same, including stacking furniture and books to get the webcam in our laptops to the best possible position.  Far from ideal.  As we move to more and more audio and video production, the lack of a dedicated studio space is becoming and issue.  So, we decided build a dedicated studio.

Like most educational organizations, cost is big a factor.  We just don’t have thousands of dollars to throw at the latest 4K cameras.  We also don’t need a full-blown Hollywood studio to make materials for our students to view on the web.  We started by looking at acoustical foam as a way to insulate our space, but this quickly added up to hundreds of dollars for our 10′ x 12′ room.  Our search for other options led us to Justin Troyer, OSU’s resident media services expert and author of Medialogue, who showed us a studio on campus that he had insulated with mover’s blankets.  This looked to be a solution to some of our biggest audio issues because they would both help to block out external noise and reduce the echo within the room.

We had also been struggling with what sort of background to use for video production.  We were leaning towards a velvet or velour curtain in a neutral color because it would help to further absorb the echo within the studio.  But that fabric is expensive and it would lock us into a single background for every video, which is not ideal.  Justin suggested a green screen, which can be removed digitally and replaced with almost anything.  He has several different-sized pop-up green screens which are easy to put behind the video subjects.  But in the end we decided to got with another option he suggested: paint a wall green.  This saves both money and space because the wall does not have to be set up or stored when not in use.

So, after starting with an empty office space, we used the following items to create our studio:

Item  #  Cost  Total
Mover’s Blankets – Harbor Freight  6  $7.99  $47.94
Light-Duty Ceiling Hooks – Home Depot (4 pack)  4  $1.49  $5.96
Gallon Behr Premium Plus Ultra Interior Latex Paint – Sparkling Apple  1  $30.98  $30.98
Assorted painting sundries (roller covers, masking tape)  $15.87
Total:  $100.75

We came in just over $100, which is pretty close to our target.  Included in the costs are items that got used and disposed of while we were painting (roller covers and masking tape) but not items that I already had at home that I brought in to use (paint roller, roller tray, brushes).  I also filled in a few holes in the wall with my own putty and putty knife.  You may need to factor in additional costs if you don’t have access to these basic tools.

In the end, we incurred one final cost which was to purchase a short curtain rod and rings to which allow us to slide the mover’s blanket out from in front of the door, which makes getting in and out much, much easier.  The rod and rings cost just under $22.

Now the real fun begins.  You can see from the picture that we already have a small table, chair, microphone stand, and camera tripod.  The table will be used for straight audio recording, which is why we wrapped the end of one mover’s blanked around it to enclose it on three sides.  We still need to find a microphone or two, a video camera, and some lights.  Stay tuned as we work on acquiring these items to complete our studio.

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My 3 Favorite Podcasts

podcast icon with headphones

I enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m at the gym, on the bus, working on a home improvement project, or otherwise have my ears free.  I’ve also incorporated them into ESL classes and recommended them to students for listening practice, though most of my favorites are targeted towards native speakers and so demand a high level of language proficiency on the part of the student.  These three podcasts are the ones I have found that I can not do without.  Find information on subscribing to them by clicking on the titles below.

This American Life

This weekly, hour-long NPR show is available as a free podcast and in a streamed archive that includes almost every story broadcast over the 15+ year history of the show.  I’ve mentioned this podcast previously, but it’s at the top of the list because of the consistently engaging stories that are posted (and aired — check local listings) each week.  Some favorites include episode 238 Lost in Translation, which includes the story of Yao Ming‘s first American translator beginning at the 40 minute mark; episode 188 Kid Logic, which incorporates kids’ ideas on everything from the Tooth Fairy to why planes get smaller when they fly away; and episode 90 Telephone, which includes a story about how a teenager’s behavior changes when he hears himself on the phone, which begins at the seven minute mark.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve listened to well over half of the episodes available online and many of them have stuck with me for years.

Radio Lab

Radio Lab is another NPR show that broadcasts in some markets (again, check local listings,) though less frequently than This American Life. But the focus of Radio Lab is science in the very broadest sense and the hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, do an amazing job of making some of the most profound and bleeding-edge topics understandable (and interesting!) to almost anyone.  Fortunately, every episode and the interspersed shorts, all of which make up the podcast, are available online for listening or downloading at any time.  Some of my favorites include the Limits episode, which details a non-stop bike race across the continent of North America including what effects riding a bicycle for a hundred hours has on the human body and mind; the Famous Tumors episode, which discusses the contagious tumors that are decimating the wild populations of Tasmanian Devils; and the New Normal? episode which reframes Evolution in a really startling way.  Many of the episodes draw conclusions that rub against the grain of common sense and challenge our preconceived notions of what we think we know.  Not only is the content compelling, but the audio editing is exceptional.

The Moth

The Moth features real stories told live onstage without notes.  There is some overlap in themes with This American Life, but these stories are not edited into a one-hour radio show.  Rather each story is presented individually, regardless of its length, and with live crowd reactions.  The Moth supports story telling events around the U.S. and broadcasts its best stories via the podcast.  A very few stories are available online, but most are not.  Stories are usually told by people you have never heard of, though there have been a few “celebrity” story tellers (Blue Clues host Steve Burns and Milli Vanilli frontman Fab Morvan are two examples.)  Some episodes are marked explicit, usually for coarse language, but each story is a personal tale told by the person who lived it.  I have heard stories that run the range from shipwreck survivors to Apollo Theater dancers to New York City cops to people getting out of bad relationships or reflecting on their parenting skills.  Each story is unique and interesting.

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Phone Your Blog

phone

Who ya gonna call?

I’ve had this WordPress blog for about two years and have had blogs with Blogger in the past.  Both are good services, but I like the WordPress interface a bit better as well as the ability to have several static pages (inspiration, projects, and resources, for example).  Recently, WordPress announced a feature that Blogger had years ago but cancelled: the ability to phone your blog.

Once you’ve signed up for a WordPress blog, you can configure a special number that you can call and record a message that will appear on your blog.  I don’t plan to use this feature on this blog, but there are several reasons that this feature is mentioning.

First, this is a way to create digital recordings without any special equipment: no microphone, digital audio recorder, computer, mp3 player — just a phone.  The recordings can be downloaded, shared, and edited in the same way as any other digital recording.

Second, a student in an ESL class can make a recording and then others in the class can comment on it. This could be feedback on an impromptu speech topic, a dialog between two or more students, or any other oral interaction.  Comments could be based on language used, content, or both.  Many options are possible when it is this easy to share a digital audio recording.

All of this is possible with some content management systems (there are plugins available for Moodle, for example) but otherwise pulling all of the technology together to make this happen can be a bit of work, all of which is streamlined by simply calling your blog.

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Top 5 Technologies You Should Already Be Using

apple cassette tape

You don't miss these, do you?

I realize that in the world of technology there are early and late adopters.  I’m not the earliest of bleeding-edge early adopters, but I do like to try out new technology and incorporate it into my teaching.  This list is a handful of tried and true technologies that are established enough to not be too buggy and problematic, user-friendly enough that just about anyone can start using them quickly, and useful enough that you’ll soon wonder how you got along without them.  In short, this is a list of tech that just about everyone can (and maybe even should) be using in 2010.

1. Social Bookmarking – Don’t let the “social” part fool you.  Delicious, Diigo and others offer a way to move your bookmarks to the cloud, meaning they are no longer saved only on one computer.  You can also: tag bookmarks with keywords to make them more searchable, get a URL to all the bookmarks tagged with the same term (for example, all of the sites I bookmarked for my presentation at the recent DMSW conference: http://delicious.com/eslchill/dmsw10), and search other people’s bookmarks to find out what people think is worth bookmarking on a given topic  (for example search for “ESL” on Delicious and you can see how many people have bookmarked each ESL site).  But wait, there’s more!  Diigo allows you to highlight and comment on webpages and then share them.  For example, take a look at my About Me page with some highlighting and sticky notes.  This can be a great tool for collaborating and compiling research.

2. Social media – Ok, here’s where the social part kicks in because Facebook and Twitter are just for fun, right?  Well, I’ve found a lot of great resources via Twitter (try a search for #iwb if you want to find resources people are posting for use with Interactive Whiteboards, for example.) And more and more people are joining Facebook making it a great resource for networking with colleagues.  Don’t want to expose your students to Facebook?  You can build your own social network using Ning!

3. URL Shorteners – These may not be necessary, but they are very handy.  Copy your long URL (the Google Map directions to your house, for example) and paste it into Tiny URL, Tr.im or a handful of others.  They give you a much shorter link that is easier to Tweet.  Not on Twitter?  They can still be useful.  Consider the website for the Unconference I’m planning for this May.  Is it easier to share tr.im/eltu2 or https://carmenwiki.osu.edu/display/eltu/?  Both take you to the same place, but I can memorized the first one.  This technology is so handy, it’s even built in to other sites, like the link provided by Diigo to my annotated About Me page that I shared in #1: http://www.diigo.com/09je0.

4. Wikipedia – Although it has become popular (but not necessary) to question it’s accuracy, Wikipedia has become the defacto knowledge bank on the internet.  Once we are clear on what it is (a secondary source: a compilation of all referenced knowledge) many of its criticisms fall down.  Access to all of this information means a reorganization of learning.  Memorizing becomes virtually unnecessary while the ability to find and retrieve relevant information becomes essential.  More importantly, at least with factual questions, we no longer have to sit and wonder anymore.  What are the lyrics to Carmen Ohio? Just get on the internet and find out!

5. Google – No, I don’t just mean search, but all the other stuff: maps, docs, calendar, etc.  It’s never been so easy to collaborate with other people.  I created a Google Maps / YouTube mashup (student created videos from around Ohio State mapped to where they were recorded) a couple of years ago, back when it involved coding every individual coordinate for every pin placed on the map as well as the contents of every bubble that popped up.  But now, just create your account and you can drag and drop most of the information where you need it — even invite people to work on the same map.  Plus, you can get a sneak peak at what the next big thing might be by checking out Google Labs.  Who wouldn’t like a pair of Google Goggles?

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